Gone in a “Flash”

Feels like forever since I last posted or stopped by other blogs to say hi. With two deadlines soaking up most of my time last week and this past weekend devoted to my uncle’s funeral and family gatherings, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The following is the post I wrote last week, but put aside until now. I hope to return to my routine this week.

What is it about a baby shower that makes men’s eyes glaze over? I’m always amused when I see how fast guys scurry away as they drop their wives/partners off or run out the door if their wife/partner is the one throwing the shower. Yet my extremely busy week of curriculum projects due now, now, now culminated in a baby shower, for which I had to crochet sixteen kittens. (Sounds like a fifties song, “Sixteen Candles.” “Six-teen kit-tens!”) So, I’m sorry to have missed reading many of the blogs I usually read, since I had next to no free time whatsoever, even to post on my own blog.

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Hermit-ThrushC14784Speaking of now, now, now, the other day, as I waited in my car at a light, watching tiny birds like brown teacups gathered at a street corner, I thought about a quote I read in Entertainment Weekly’s double issue (September 19/26).

“I think we have to get to stuff faster probably than we otherwise would have,” [Andrew] Kreisberg sighs. “Everybody is telling stories a lot faster on TV now.”

250px-Andrew_Kreisberg

Andrew Kreisberg

Who’s he? The producer of the upcoming new series The Flash, the CW network’s vehicle for DC’s comic book hero, the Flash—“the fastest man alive.” Grant Gustin stars as the Flash. The quote is Kreisberg’s answer to the question of how the series will roll out the Flash’s powers—all at once or gradually? Inquiring minds wanted to know. But Kreisberg’s words raised questions within me beyond those having to do with the Flash’s abilities.

The-Flash

With so many shows for viewers to choose from, I totally get the need to quickly grab viewers’ attention. A trip to Half Price Bookstore helped me see that. As I wandered in the section for MG and YA books, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of books on the shelves, books screaming for my attention. Many were written by authors I’d never heard of. I scanned the first pages of some of them before I quickly moved on.

Skimming books in a bookstore doesn’t give justice to the authors who slaved over their manuscripts like great chefs—meal maestros who slave over a hot stove. And I don’t mean to convey that a book’s greatness should be judged by one hastily skimmed page nor that a television show’s worth is proved by how quickly viewers are gripped. After all, good storytelling often plays out over several pages and or over a season in television. Yet many people allow only one shot–a fleeting opportunity to quickly engage them or lose them forever.

I hope that the “fast” storytelling Kreisberg mentioned doesn’t mean that time spent crafting compelling characters will take a backseat while gimmicks and formulaic action sequences are thrust into the driver’s seat. That method of storytelling causes me to scurry away from a television program or a novel.

While I like to be engaged in a story early on, I also like to care about the characters beyond So-and-so’s hunt for his partner’s/wife’s/girlfriend’s/brother’s killer while he deals with his own issues with rage/PTSD/addictions. Of course this is not a description of the Flash/Barry Allen, whose antics I used to read about in comic book form. But I’m hoping that “fast” storytelling refers to his famed speed only and not to slapdash characters. Otherwise, I’ll be gone in a flash.

What do you think “fast” storytelling means? What’s the fastest way to engage you in a story?

“Fall TV Preview.” Entertainment Weekly. 19/26 Sept. 2014. 35-109. Print.

Grant Gustin as the Flash from screencrush.com. Bird from aconerlycoleman.wordpress.com. Andrew Kreisberg from arrow.wikia.com.

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45 thoughts on “Gone in a “Flash”

  1. I think of Doctor Who. In the old, ‘classic’ Doctor Who days, story lines could take up seven, eight episodes or more. Today’s Doctor Who does not take its time in setting story or introducing characters, it is fast paced-straight to the action adventures that is usually resolved over the course of forty five minutes.
    I think it was made to cater for the younger generation, when it was brought back, who maybe don’t have the attention span, or discipline for the former type of storytelling.
    Hope your Uncle’s funeral went okay.

    • I see a lot of comments (from presumably younger Whovians) complaining that a given recent episode “dragged” and that the “pacing was off,” the implication being that they took too long (30 seconds perhaps?) to get to the action.

      • Ha ha yes-a forty five minute episode dragged! I doubt that they have the patience to get through a whole book either. We live in a world of everything instantly available at the click of a button. Attention spans are shortening.

      • Yes. We have the advent of the television to thank for that. I can’t say that speaks well of our age. I can’t imagine what the world will be like when kids like your son James are adults!

      • Sad. They must have the attention span of a flea. They certainly wouldn’t have made it through the Tom Baker episodes! Or even the David Tennant ones!

    • It did, Andy. Now the hard part begins: living without him. 😦
      I know what you mean about the old episodes. I tried to get a teen interested in watching some Tom Baker episodes. Nothing doing. He hated them. And these were written by Douglas Adams! I gave up after awhile.

  2. Because there are so many people who love story and love such different types of stories, I’m always hopeful that there is room in the vast world for all different types of stories–both fast-paced and more developed.

    • I hear you, Sandra! I can’t help thinking of The Hunger Games. Some describe it as a perfectly plotted book. Even though it had a fast pace, Katniss didn’t start off in the arena. The author took time to develop her character and situation.

  3. Minimized attention span of people? I know I hear complaints from people when there isn’t a fight scene in the first chapter of a book. People don’t want to wait for the story and seem to always be in a rush.

    As for the men and baby showers, it’s because we’re led to believe that we’re not supposed to be there. We’re told it’s filled with awkward conversations and repeatedly being told that our life is over. Strange how mothers are told how great life will be when the baby comes and fathers are told that they’ll have to give up every hobby that they have. So it’s very much a final chance to get away from the baby stuff and not have to be stressed out.

    • I’ve been to some work showers for male coworkers whose wives were expecting babies. The men always looked a bit sheepish. I wonder if they were terrified at the thought that they would have to play a shower game. (I’m a bit scared of those too.)

      I agree that some books are better off with a fight scene or an action scene if it fits the characters and their journey. But some seem too formulaic like a James Bond movie. I’d like to see a different type of action sequence.

      • The shower game threat does loom over our heads. I think there’s also a fear that the conversation will turn to things that make all men uncomfortable.

        Awwww. I like the over-the-top James Bond action scenes. 🙂

  4. I was reading something that related to this yesterday. The author pointed out that when the “classics” were written, books cost a lot more and there was less to choose from, so people WANTED long, drawn-out stories, and would stick around even if it took forever for the author to get to the point. Nowadays… well, as you said, we have to grab them quick and keep things moving, or it’s on to the next thing.

    As a reader, I totally get that. My DNF pile is bigger than my TBR pile, because I do have problems with attention/focus. If I don’t like a book, I won’t get past the 50 pages I try to give all of them. That doesn’t mean I need a car chase on page one, but it also means that there has to be SOMETHING to grab me. Maybe it’s beautiful prose. Maybe it’s a character who fascinates me, even if nothing is happening. What I like is when the author gives me something to grab my interest, but doesn’t neglect the character development and all of the other things that go into a solid, satisfying, and memorable read.

    It’s a tough balance, for sure.

    • Kate, I know what you mean. My DNF pile is huge. I wonder if it’s because we’ve read so many books, that authors have to work harder to engage us. I don’t know. Beautiful prose works on me. But there are some beautifully written books that I’ve put down, because they left me cold for some reason. I’ve also put down books with Mary Sue characters. I like a character who struggles and who isn’t liked by everyone. 🙂

      • I think it definitely relates to us being writers. I can’t let go of the part of my mind that’s used to analysing my own work, and it keeps me from becoming engaged in others’. I read, but I rarely enjoy it the way I used to, and it breaks my heart. I hope it will even out some day. :/

  5. For me, it all depends on the genre I’m reading. I want fast storytelling when I read a thriller and a slower pace in a romance/woman’s fiction. Whether fast or slow, if I can’t connect with the character after the first chapter or two, I’ll move on to another book.
    Oh Linda, your crochet kittens are the cutest! Great job!

    • Thanks, Jill. 😀 Yes, if I can’t make an emotional connection, I’m outta there usually. There’s gotta be a reason for me to stick around, beyond how hot a guy is.

  6. Love the kitties! They’re the cat’s meow.

    Two of my favorite opening lines in novels came from Dickens:

    “Marley was dead.”
    “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

    Enough to know that a story lay around the corner.

    • Thank you, Nancy.
      Those are two of my favorite lines as well. But I’m old school. I’m willing to wait, except for those times when I’m skimming books in a bookstore. 🙂

  7. As a writer, I feel like I’ve been loaded into the top of a chute and that I’d better be ready for action the second that thing opens. I get the need to hook people in, but do I really have to lead with a cyborg T-Rex who has 2 minutes to disarm a nuclear missile before it blows up the moon base as the hero conducts a swordfight in a space suit while standing on a magic carpet? If you start with the volume on 9.5, people aren’t that impressed when you turn it up to 10 later.

    • So true, Eric! Yet some producers discovered in the summer of 2013 that some formulas don’t work. People could see the Save the Cat formula a mile away. But in novels, we’re expected to have that perfect opening paragraph that hooks a reader passing through on Amazon. So much pressure on one paragraph!

  8. First off, adorable kittens! I want one for Angus. 😉

    Secondly, it makes me laugh thinking of the producer of “The Flash” talking about sped up storytelling.

    And lastly, to get to my more serious point, Kreisberg has a point…though I think this problem has been around longer than most people think. Like you, I’d hate to see deep characters and themes get lost in plots that develop too loudly and too quickly. The same thing has happened to a lot of music and it was especially noticeable in the 1990s/2000s. Audio engineers began to “over compress” music, essentially getting rid of the subtle dynamics and making everything constantly loud and in your face.

    I think there is a balance, but its a tough one to find, especially in the crowded marketplace that you mentioned. That’s why I feel that writers need to write for themselves and let those looking to make a fast buck worry about hitting all the marketing checkboxes.

    Hope you’re feeling a little better after the recent events Linda and that you’ll get some breathing room soon. Take care.

    • I’ll make one for Angus. What colors would you like? Surely not pink and white. 🙂
      I agree about the need for balance. Gone are the days of openers like Dickens’s famous “It was the best of times,” which went on and on. (Though I still like that sort of thing.) Our attention spans are slower, because we’re not used to waiting. We’re using to images flashing across a screen.

  9. I had to cut the second chapter of my novel for this reason. The editor felt it was too quiet for the rest of the book and gave the wrong impression of the genre. Even so, I realized this is my first novel where someone doesn’t get beaten up in the opening chapter.

  10. Kittens are very cool!
    Like kate’s comment above, I am not that picky about how fast a plot is moving, but there still has to be something (character, plot, intrigue, setting, voice…) that grabs me in the first chapter or I skip to the end (yup, I do that) to get a sense of whether it will get better. If I’m still not interested, I move on.
    I think we face a combination of challenges now that previous writers didn’t face with availability and competition (especially with ebooks, fanfic, etc that may be free and easily available in the thousands), shorter attention spans, a larger variety of entertainment options vying for the reader’s attention, and maybe even a trend towards the shallow in many facets of society. if we don’t have genuinely meaningful interactions and relationships. If we are not really interested in our own character arcs, we don’t really care about the growth or change of characters either. We don’t mind the trivial as long as it is exciting for the moment, hence the car chase/murder/big thing needs to happen early and keep happening to keep us tuned in. We don’t want to engage on a deeper level (maybe because we don’t know how anymore).

    • Wow. Great thoughts, Nancy: “If we are not really interested in our own character arcs, we don’t really care about the growth or change of characters either.” So true. And with this being the Internet age where we think intimacy is built through quick social media encounters, we become mired in a shallow outlook. I’d hate to see the youth today avoiding face to face meetings with people in favor of texting or sending someone a message on Facebook.

  11. Hi Linda! I have been thinking of you and your family as your mourn the loss of your uncle. xo

    I don’t know what we can do about this need for instant gratification when it comes to everything. We want it yesterday. Even when shopping online, people are willing to pay extra to have their item shipped ASAP. I see this with our youth in particular. They are not used to waiting for anything. It’s all right there at their finger tips. There is always something bigger, faster & better luring them in.

    • Thanks, Maria. We’re taking it one day at a time.

      I agree that instant gratification has become almost epidemic. With faster Internet service, texting, etc., no one has to wait for anything. And this trickles into our storytelling. But the most satisfying stories (in my opinion) are those that gradually unfold. I’m not saying they have to be turtle slow. But those that take the time to allow a character to blossom like a flower are the ones that grab me.

  12. Kittens!!

    You may not’ve felt it, but I’ve sent a lot of energy your way this week, Linda. Several people in my life are hurting right now, and all I can do it send thoughts, prayers and the occasional text. Inadequate, these drive-by expressions of solidarity. I wish I were there to give you a hug.

    Which expresses how I feel about fast-paced stories pretty well.

    I’m convinced we’re going to have a backlash to all this right-now, too-much-yesterday, skim-and-shallow culture. Human beings weren’t built to keep up that pace. In nerd platforms online, one can already see the leaders taking a stand.

  13. I would say that the idea of baby showers doesn’t so much cause my eyes to glaze over as to widen with curiosity, since I have never been admitted to a baby shower and probably never will be. Perhaps I should simply shut them to the notion of baby showers since I will not be granted admission to that feminine mystery. Hope you are well!

  14. I have to admit, I find it kind of funny that you’re apologizing for not visiting your usual blogs. All the stuff you were busy with sounds important to me. I don’t think you need to apologize for spending time with family and friends. 🙂

    I don’t like the idea of formulaic storytelling either. It’s like the make-up they put on actresses and models to give them the “ideal” look. After a while, the diversity of all those lovely ladies is covered and they all begin to look the same. It’s similar with stories. On the other hand, I no longer have time to read stuff I don’t really find entertaining or edifying. It used to be, if I started a book, I probably finished it. These days, I give it one chapter, maybe two, to at least engage my interest.

    • So true, ReGi! I’m glad you brought up the “ideal” look. My ISP had a video of what was deemed the “hottest” mugshot ever–that of a model. With all of her makeup and such, she looked generic.

  15. With so much to choose from nowadays I tend to buy books that are beautifully written – for example I own everything by Annie Dillard. I guess it also has to do with my mood, I may pick up a fast paced thriller once in a while but really when I get home from work all I want to do is ‘slow down’ and relax. I’ve never been into instant gratification and actually enjoy prolonging the pleasure of reading a good book or watching a great tv series. I’m not a ‘binge-‘ anything. Love your kittens 😉

    • Thanks, Yolonda! I’m glad you enjoy a well-crafted book. There are so many to choose from. I’m getting reacquainted with Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael books! I’m thoroughly enjoying those.

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